Enabling cycling is all about removing barriers. With the opening of a major cycle bridge last week, Utrecht did just that. You can now cycle from the city centre to a huge residential development (that already houses 82,000 people) via the shortest route possible and you cycle atop a school!
For over half a century, the west edge of Utrecht was clearly marked by the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal and the A2 Motorway to the west of it. In the 1990s, when Utrecht made the jump over the canal with the new housing area Leidsche Rijn (that will house 100,000 people when it is all finished) it was already clear that these barriers had to be removed somehow. Between 2007 and 2012 the A2 motorway was buried underground, that meant one barrier fewer. Discussions about a cycle bridge over the canal had already started in the late 1990s, but at the most logical location for a cycle bridge two schools were in the way. In November 2013, the city council finally decided that one of those schools should be relocated and the other would be integrated into a bridge. With that bridge now in use, all barriers were indeed removed.
The two school buildings between Victor Hugoplantsoen (Victor Hugo Garden) and the canal were not only in the way of the projected bridge, they were also old and owned by the city. That made it possible to solve two problems at once. For one of the schools a new building was built on the other side of the canal, in the new residential area, the other, a primary school, got a brand-new building at the former location, but with the access ramp to the new bridge on its roof. Building started in May 2015, the new school has been in use from 9 May 2016.
The access ramp onto the school had to make a curve. There was not enough space between the bridge and a main road (that the cycle route crosses) to have a straight ramp. Because of the curve, the gradient of the ramp is on average just 2.6%, with a maximum of 4% at some locations. There is also a level part to catch your breath. That means the ramp can be used by almost everyone. The public garden around the curved bicycle access ramp was re-designed. Thanks to the clever double land use there was even space left to develop a row of 15 new houses. That means there are a lot of elements in this project: the relocation of the two schools, the bridge, the garden and the houses. All together it required an investment of 25 million euros. If you want to single out the cost of just the bridge: that was 7 million euros.
The access ramp is very special, but the bridge itself is also impressive. It is a 110 metres long suspension bridge also designed by Next Architects. The west pylon was erected in September 2016. It is meant to stand out as a new landmark at 35 metres tall. The east pylon is supposed to blend in with an existing row of trees and it was therefore kept at 20 metres tall. The suspension cables were connected in one weekend to disturb the busy ship traffic as little as possible. The bridge deck (at 9 metres over the water) consists of 10 pre-fabricated parts that were also placed in one weekend. These deck parts were then connected while the many ships could already use the canal again. The bridge deck is 7 metres wide. The cycleway on the bridge is 4 metres wide, the footpath 2 metres and there is 50 centimetres on either side for the fences and other rest space. After the bridge deck was completely closed, the contractors could finish the bridge, by placing the railings and the final top layers of asphalt. This took a bit longer than expected and the winter temperatures meant a further delay of about 3 months. But on Monday 3 April 2017, at 8:00 am sharp, the fences were removed and people could use the bridge. Right away they did, in great numbers. It is expected that 7,000 people will cycle across the bridge daily. This bridge is not a token piece of infrastructure, it is a very important connection in the Utrecht city cycle network. The video, showing a ride from Leidsche Rijn to the Utrecht Central Station, shows you how useful this bridge is.
The city of Utrecht asked its residents to name the bridge. This was in 2015 just after Utrecht athlete Dafne Schippers had become world champion at the 200-metres, a first for the Netherlands. Almost 2,000 people proposed to name the bridge after Dafne Schippers, not only because the bridge is a fast connection, but also because she lives in the neighbourhood and went to school in the new development. This was a fortunate decission, because that meant the Netherlands was spared a third Snelbinder (after Nijmegen and Naaldwijk). That name was also chosen very often!
Dafne Schippers will personally open the bridge named after her, on 13 May 2017, in an official opening ceremony.
My video report of the new “Dafne Schippersbrug”.
The ride (Sped-up)
The ride (real-time)